The quarterfinals of the Columbia College Men’s Basketball American Midwest Conference Tournament against Williams Baptist contained two programs that – on paper – could not be separated.
In the regular season game, the Cougars and Eagles averaged 68.7 points, recorded a plus 2.2 rebound lead and forced 13.9 sales per game.
Quality in the night would always decide this matchup.
The Cougars made for that quality in the second half when they defeated Williams Baptist 81-70 at the Southwell Complex to advance to the AMC semifinals.
“Our boys fought their way back in the first half,” said Columbia coach Tomas Brock. “And then I was very happy with the way we played in the second half, especially on the defensive.”
Columbia’s first assignment was to stop Shackeel Butters – the only player to average double-doubles at the AMC. Butters recorded 16 points and 15 rebounds when the two programs last met, and is the only player to have 15 or more rebounds in a game at the conference. an achievement he achieved five times.
Second, the Cougars had to find inspiration on offense after struggling to convert chances into points in the last three games.
To tie up Butters, the Cougars turned to Carson Parker, Jack Fritsche, and Jacob Ungles. On the offensive AMC top scorer Tony Burks went ahead.
Butters hit 10 rebounds for the Eagles but was suppressed by Columbia’s defense to a season low of five points. The trio took turns guarding the standout senior of the Eagles, and their close pressure paid off when Butters went 2 of 10 off the field.
“(Butters) is a really good player,” said Brock. “These three guys did really well, making it difficult for him. Overall, we did a good job with him and Cortez King, their other top scorer. “
On the other end, Burks carried some of his early regular season magic into the playoffs.
The junior drove into the paint with a devastating effect. As the game progressed and Williams Baptist began pushing higher and higher into the pitch, Burks continued to find gaps, collect boards, and convert with deadly accuracy.
Fritsche, Harrison Vickers and Carson Parker hit double-digit numbers for Columbia at 17, 14 and 13 points, respectively, but it was Burk’s influence that sparked two devastating runs in the second half from the Cougars when he finished the game with 19 points and 19 10 rebounds.
“One thing about Tony: he’s the best in transition,” said Brock. “He’s really hard to stop when he’s got a full head.”
Brock repeated that his team’s defense made Burks shine.
“You have to defend whether it’s a turnover or a long rebound that will allow him to get off in transition, play some of those big games and get to the edge,” Brock said.
The combination of Burks’ efforts at the helm and the hard work of the defense to contain one of the NAIA’s most dangerous players was crucial to Columbia’s win in what was mostly a one-point affair.
The two programs participated equally in points, rebounds, and sales. When it came to the crisis, Columbia outperformed Williams Baptist by 11, outperformed him by 15, forcing him to make an equal number of sales.
Next up is a new challenge at AMC Top-Seed Lyon College.
“There are two teams that know each other well, two teams that are going to play really hard, two really good defensive teams. So we will come back tomorrow and hopefully have a good training session and talk a little about Lyon,” said Brock.
The Cougars and Scots will battle it out in Batesville, Arkansas on Saturday at 7 p.m.